When I was a cheerleader in high school we did a cheer about dynamite that ended with us yelling, “tick, tick, tick, tick… BOOM!”. Well, that’s what yesterday felt like. Since receiving the positive result of my BRCA test, I’ve felt like a ticking time bomb. Maybe I’ve felt that way my whole life, but the imminence has intensified upon scientific confirmation of my sneaking suspicion. I will probably get breast cancer.
The first part of my mammogram went smoothly. Boob on vice, flattened like chicken paillard, sweet release. I sat in the little hallway while the tech and the radiologist studied my images. Not even five minutes later, the tech called me back into the room and said, “we found something behind your right nipple. It only came up on one view, which is good, but I have to take more images.”. For some reason that didn’t totally freak me out. Looking on the screen at the white spot she identified raised my anxiety only slightly because shortly after that she was cranking down a little platform onto my nipple. Remember I said before that mammograms don’t hurt when your boobs are naturally like pancakes? Not so much at the nipple. Wowza! (helpful hint: never get a mammogram days before your period, if you can help it, makes things a little more uncomfortable and perhaps harder to read).
After the medieval torture had subsided, I sat down again in the little waiting area. I tried to watch the tv displaying relaxing images and distract an anxious old lady next to me (and myself) by asking her where she thought that beautiful photograph was taken. Before I could even ask her if it looked like Ireland (old people know/love to think they know everything), the tech came back out and said, “follow me”. It felt like being summoned to the principal’s office (not that that ever happened to me, Mom). It did not look promising for me. All I could think was, “well there you have it, you missed your golden opportunity. You waited too long. Now you’ve actually got cancer and have to do everything you wanted to avoid. Why did you wait?”. She must have seen the terror and remorse in my expression because she quickly said, “you’re fine. You can get dressed. The spot disappeared after I pressed down on it”. (cue the floodgates, sprung wide open from relief).
This was one of the scariest moments. This was also one of the most affirming times in my life. It sucked, but it was perfect. I now have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the double mastectomy is completely necessary. It is not a choice anymore. I never want to face that again. I’m done waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for my bad news, waiting to hear ‘you’ve got breast cancer’. I’m changing the ending. I’m defusing the bomb. Tick, tick, tick, tick… Shhhhhhh.
I realized last night that my 3 year old daughter and my 36 year old brother have the same taste in music. They were both dancing and singing to LMFAO. I don’t know if the choice of song was really appropriate for either of them, but it was a pretty awesome scene. Music has an unusual way to transcend boundaries and bond people, to encourage brain development and to lift spirits.
My big girl tells us she’s going to be a “conductanor” for Halloween. And then she waves her hands around as if there’s an orchestra she’s commanding. Her love of music and instruments transcends far beyond the pop genre (thank God). She jams out to Weezer, to Shakira (still pop but perhaps a bit more cultural) and even to Mozart’s classical symphonies. She will watch a YouTube video of guitar instruction and then pick up her guitar and show me, “mom, these are my chords”. Even the baby starts bouncing now when she likes a song. We are thrilled with the big girl’s obvious passion and want to provide her every opportunity to learn more. She will undoubtedly benefit from her musical exploration and education. You must be dedicated and disciplined to excel as a musician; valuable attributes to learn as a young person. For those of us who are music lovers but not necessarily talented enough to pursue playing an instrument, listening to music has its own benefits.
On my way to my very last mammogram today, I was rocking out to my own playlist (I remembered headphones this time, phew). It occurred to me that whenever I’m sad or nervous or angry, if I play the right music, all of those emotions subside. I choreograph dances in my head as I bop along and I wind up feeling so much better. I’m transported to a new place, not quite zen, but still relaxing. People put together playlists to motivate themselves while they work out. I’m going to work on a new playlist that can pump me up before I go under.
Yesterday I had my internal ultrasound for ovarian cancer screening (remembering that now I need them every 6 months). The October issue of Parenting magazine was in the office’s waiting room. I was drawn in by the allure of Halloween costumes for less. (I have always wanted to make the girls’ costumes but have given up control and let my husband take over. In his eyes, I am to Halloween what the Grinch is to Christmas. He refuses to have them in crap costumes.) However, in this issue of the magazine, I got way more than I bargained for.
There was an article about 10 Moms who had survived cancer. All of their stories were remarkable and one breast cancer survivor even had a double mastectomy with kids almost the same ages as mine. Their quotes made me well up because I felt like I’m not alone and I’m also so grateful. I don’t have to be in a position where I’m shocked by this awful news like they were. So many had to do chemo and radiation. Some were even pregnant when they had to start treatment. One said that her doctor put it simply, if you don’t live neither can your baby. Takes my breath away.
So many of them talked about their treatment not being a selfish act. It’s a funny way to put it. One mother commented, “taking control of your health is not selfish- you do it for your children’s sake.”. It’s so true. I often feel guilty that I will be putting my family through this ordeal, but I know it’s the best thing to do. I want to be here for them as long as humanly possible.
Shannon Miller, the Olympic gymnast, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 33. She said, “it’s really important to shout from the rooftops and tell women that we have to make our health a priority. We’re so busy taking care of everyone else, and we have to make that time for ourselves, too. It’s not a selfish act – its a very selfless act. If we don’t take time for our health, then we won’t be here for our kids and our family and everyone else.” Reading her quote validated exactly why I’ve been blogging and why I’m going on this insane journey. I’m shouting it from my keyboard, I’m taking care of myself so I can be here with everyone I love. It’s just as simple as that. It’s the best motivation I can think of and the force that drives me forward when I feel like falling back.
Trust is tantamount in any relationship. It takes a long time to build and can be destroyed in a moment. In a best friend, you trust that person not to talk behind your back. In a spouse, you trust that person never to lie to or cheat on you. In a parent, you trust that person to always be there when they say they will, for complete honesty and for unconditional love. If you can’t trust those people in your life, the world can seem a bitter, cruel place full of uncertainty and disloyalty.
I want my girls to trust that what I tell them is the truth and that they can depend on whatever I say to be honest. Sure, the occasional white lie is acceptable. “You are the greatest singer in the world.”. That’s really not entirely true, but there’s no one’s voice I’d rather hear. I’m sure people will tell me, “you look great!” after surgery with that shit eating grin that means they’re politely lying. Those are acceptable because I can trust that it’s all done with the best of intentions.
I remember one of my brothers telling me in high school, “don’t be a gossip. No one likes a gossip”. I brushed it off but always kept it in the back of my head. I secretly love to hear gossip, but you won’t find me spreading it. I don’t know if it’s really true.
So I’m not sure what to say to my girls when I go for my surgery. I want them to know that I’m going to be back in a few days and that I’m going to be fine. But what they’ll see after won’t necessarily seem fine to them. Will it make me not trustworthy after that?
When I was little, I would ask my mother to sit next to me while I fell asleep (a history that is repeating itself now as my big girl demands the same – you got your wish, Dad). One of my parents would always help me fall asleep but I would then take it a step further and say, “Promise you will stay the whole night”. Mom wouldn’t. She would tell me that she never made promises she didn’t keep and that when she said “I promise”, I could always trust her. In all of my 30 years, she has never violated that promise. I want to make sure my girls can trust me the same way that I can always trust my mother.
Trust is too important to take lightly, flinging little lies here and there. They eventually take their toll. I have to come up with the right, most truthful and trustworthy way to explain my surgery and recovery in three year old terms. How do I keep our trust while accounting for the uncertainties that lie ahead? Isn’t that the conundrum in all relationships?
We are trying to pick out a rug for our bedroom. It is surprisingly difficult and annoying. Normally, I like decorating. It’s an outlet for creativity. It’s amazing that picking out a rug is more challenging and time consuming than picking out my new boobs.
After hearing about all of the various options I have: silicon, scalene, silicon gel, etc, I feel like it’s a no brainer compared to what I will step on in the morning. Dhuri, knotted wool, hand-looped, ugh! I suppose it’s a good thing that I’m so much more confident in what’s going to go in my body for the next 10 years than what will be under my feet for only five minutes a day.
Coordinating my schedule for the next few weeks before surgery has been a challenge. I have tons of doctors’ appointments, things to do with my girls, dinners that I want to plan with my husband and my friends. So much to cram into the next few weeks before I’m out of commission for a while. I know it’s morbid, but it made me think about those with a harder schedule to handle. Those whose prognosis isn’t as promising as mine will be post-op.
Many make a bucket list of things they want to accomplish before their expiration. I totally understand that. My recent list is paltry in comparison to the to-do list I have mentally jotted down for the rest of my existence. Places I want to go, things I want to learn, experiences I want to have, food I want to taste. All of it pales in comparison to those I want to spend time with. If I had the choice to go on my dream trip to accomplish all of the above or to be with my family during my last days, you can imagine which option I’d pick. Packing is such a pain in the ass.
I’m not sure if the big girl is picking up on all the talk about my surgery or if 3 is the age of body part comparison and identification. Maybe both, but it seems that lately she has been commenting on boobs, a lot. She often lifts her shirt up and asks, “these are my boobies?”. Is she waiting for confirmation because hers look so much different than mine? She wore a bikini to the pool recently and after saying she had a little belly, she nonchalantly told me I had a big belly in my bikini. Thanks a lot kid, you had a little part in that, ya know?
That didn’t bother me really, but when she patted my boobs yesterday and told me that they were “bumpy and bouncy”, my only reply was “for now”. Luckily she didn’t question my response, because, admittedly, it wasn’t a wise or thoughtful answer.
I am definitely concerned about the way I’m going to feel to them when we embrace or cuddle. As the little one fell asleep snuggling me today, I thought I’m just like a pillow. Since the implants will go underneath my pectoral muscles and they aren’t doughy like my natural breasts, I’m worried that the flatter, harder breasts won’t be the soft cushion my daughters need to lean on when they want to be comforted. Now I’m a down variety pillow, but soon I imagine I will be more like a tempurpedic. I hate those foam things. I wonder if their little side profiles will leave an impression on my boobs after they nap on me?